The Cambridge DAB300 is one of the most affordable digital radio tuners on the market, and undercuts the likes of Pure Digital’s DRX-701ES and DRX-702ES by a considerable margin. That’s perhaps a little surprising, given the fact that the Cambridge is built around a third-generation Digital Audio Broadcasting module from Frontier Silicon, which uses technology licensed from Pure’s parent, Imagination Technologies.
Still, this is far from the first time that Cambridge has been able to use its expertise when it comes to sourcing of production and – in the UK at least – relationship with its main retailer to achieve prices that rivals struggle to match.
DAC’s the way to do it
And all this isn’t at the expense of quality: after all, the DAB300’s digital-to-analogue conversion, which crunches the numbers coming off the digital radio carrier into signals your amplifier can tackle, is handled by a 24-bit/96kHz 4x upsampling system from Wolfson Microelectronics. Yes, that the same company that supplies Apple with its iPod audio chips.
As is common with DAB tuners, the entry-level Cambridge model automatically scans for all available digital radio stations when you first fire it up, and it’s also possible the run this scan manually whenever you want to check whether any new broadcasts have been added to the ensembles, or groups of stations, available in your area.
After auto-tuning, the DAB300 can store 10 stations in presets, and also allows you to scroll through what’s available, then press to select a broadcast for listening. Station names are displayed, just as they are on RDS-equipped FM tuners, and there’s a range of display options including bitrate – increasingly of interest as station quality is ‘adjusted’ to make space for more services – and signal strength.
This being a budget tuner, you don’t get built-in FM reception, but loop-through sockets are provided for an analogue tuner, saving an input on your amplifier, and there are both optical and electrical digital outputs. However, another sign of tight pricing is that a remote handset is a £10 optional extra.
The DAB300 is at its best with Radio 3/Classic FM music and Radio 4 speech. There’s no background noise, and voices and instruments have a tonal neutrality and bite that greatly enhances listening pleasure. Listen to a big orchestra or a well-produced drama and there’s fine ambience and imaging, yet the sound is smooth and rich. Compressed pop or rock sounds less impressive, but that just reinforces this tuner’s laudable transparency.